May 7, 2013

At least once a week, Republicans — in one way or another — provide further evidence that genuine reform is not in the cards. Today, for instance, there’s the resignation of Illinois politician Pat Brady, chair of the state’s Republican Party. Earlier this year, he came out in support of gay marriage legislation introduced by state Democrats. The result was a meeting, this past April, where 50 members asked Brady to step down from his post. And this is on top of national Republican opposition to a provision that would extend automatic green card privileges to the partners of LGBT Americans.

In other words, there hasn’t actually been a Republican shift on gay rights. Instead, Republicans have just been smarter about vocalizing their opposition to marriage equality and other anti-discrimination laws. Yes, a plurality of people who self-identify as Republican support same-sex marriage — 49 percent, according to a March survey from the Pew Research Center — but this doesn’t translate to support among the pool of Republican voters.

Remember, the GOP is strongest among white evangelicals, white Southerners, and older people. These are also the groups most likely to oppose same-sex marriage, and in the case of the latter, one of the groups most likely to vote.

For another real-life test of this — besides the Illinois GOP and immigration reform — look to the Virginia gubernatorial race, where Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is the Republican nominee. Cuccinelli is nationally known for his intense social conservatism, which includes opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. It’s a key part of his persona.

Given that, it’s no surprise that — according to the latest Washington Post poll of the race, where he leads 46 percent to 44 percent for Democrat Terry McAuliffe — his largest margin is among the oldest voters. According to one analysis, turnout among these voters rarely drops from election to election.

In other words, as long as a key portion of actual Republican voters — who reliably go to the polls — oppose same-sex marriage, it’s no surprise that GOP politicians continue to demonstrate their opposition to full legal equality for LGBT Americans. Which means that any “reform” on this front is likely to be superficial at best for the foreseeable future.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.